I am always on the look-out for a great vegetarian lasagna. I know they exist, but to me (a huge cheese lover), I need the perfect mix of veggies and cheese to make it worth the time to make. This recipe caught my eye because of the liberty it allows in creating a great vegetarian dish with a variety of vegetable and add-in options. The background sauce seemed like a great base to get creative with. I am trying to “sneak” more vegetables into my meals, and a veggie lasagna is a great way to do it. I think you could use whatever vegetables you have access to: in the late summer/fall, I bet it would be terrific with different kinds of squashes. It’s also probably really great without too many vegetables in it-the possibilities for this one are endless.
I will forewarn you, though. It does take a little time to prepare, so it’s not the best option if you are looking for a quick weeknight meal. I included a step in the instructions of how to blanch the spinach-make sure to have a bowl of cold water ready as soon as the spinach goes into the boiling water. I made this on a Sunday afternoon, but the leftovers were great for re-heating the next couple of days.
This veggie lasagna is packed with flavor, color, and (thankfully) cheese. If you are looking to lighten it up a bit, omit some of the shredded mozzarella and use a part-skim ricotta. The original recipe calls for the no-boil noodles to be broken into pieces-I wanted a more elegant presentation for my dinner so I chose to keep them intact, so feel free to play around a bit. I also used a lasagna pan for this (thank you “free gifts with purchase!” at Bed, Bath, and Beyond!), but you could use a normal casserole dish for this one.
Servings: about 8-10
For the basil puree:
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup spinach leaves
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or Parmesan), grated
Salt and pepper, to taste
32 ounces ricotta cheese (One 2-pound container)
1 large egg
For the vegetables:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 8-ounce jar of roasted red bell peppers, drained
1 pound baby spinach
9 ounces of no-boil lasagna noodles
4 and 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1. For the basil puree: In your food processor or blender, combine the basil, 1/2 cup spinach leaves, 1/2 teaspoon of the garlic and 1/2 cup of the olive oil, processing until a thick paste forms, a few seconds.
2. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt and pepper (to taste). Set aside.
3. In a separate medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, the egg, and more salt and pepper (to taste). Set aside.
4. To blanch the spinach: In a large pot over high heat, bring about 8 cups of water to a boil. Add the 1-pound of spinach to the water, and stir, until the spinach turns bright green, about 30 seconds. Immediately plunge the spinach into another bowl full of cold water to stop the spinach from cooking. Drain the spinach and pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.
5. For the sauce: In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3-4 minutes.
6. Add the remaining minced garlic and the flour and toss to coat, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.
7. Slowly add the milk to the pan, and stir to remove any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 7-10 minutes.
8. Transfer the roux to a separate bowl, and let cool for about 15 minutes.
9. Once cooled, add the basil puree to the sauce and set aside.
10. For the vegetables: Return the sauté pan to the heat and heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until shimmering.
11. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until the excess moisture has evaporated and the mushrooms are lightly browned, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes.
12. Transfer the mushrooms to a medium bowl.
13. Add the bell peppers, blanched spinach, and salt and pepper to taste to the mushrooms, mixing well.
14. For the lasagna: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray your baking pan with cooking spray.
15. Assemble the lasagna by placing about 1/2 cup of the sauce on the bottom of the pan. Layer the noodles on top of this, followed by 1/2 cup of the ricotta, 1 cup of the vegetables, 1/2 cup of the sauce, and about 1 cup of the mozzarella. Repeat this two more times.
16. Pour the remaining sauce over the lasagna and sprinkle with the rest of the mozzarella cheese.
17. Cover the pan with foil and bake until bubbling, about 45 minutes.
18. Uncover the pan, and bake for another 15-20 minutes or so, or until the cheese is lightly browned.
19. Remove from the oven and let rest for about 15 minutes.
20. Garnish with the fresh basil and serve immediately.
Source: Adapted from Williams-Sonoma.